Last time in our "History of the WWF Tag Team Championship", The Tag Team Championship experienced a British Invasion, when Davey Boy Smith and the Dynamite Kid, the British Bulldogs, won the gold at WrestleMania 2 and held them throughout the remainder of 1986. Unfortunately, Dynamite's body, after years of substance and steroid abuse, finally gave out in a match in Hamilton, Ontario. With Dynamite hospitalized and in no physical condition to perform, the future of the team was in jeopardy, and it was clear that a decision must be made to move the belts elsewhere. With an 8-month-long reign under their belt as the calendar flipped to 1987, it was only a matter of time until the Bulldogs dropped the belts, regardless of serious injury to one of the men holding the straps.
Curiously, the WWF taped for syndication on January 5th at the Meadowlands Arena and January 6th in Hershey, PA and didn't do a title switch there, even with Davey Boy Smith in attendance for the second taping (and part of a match taped for Coliseum Video and International TV). Sometime between these dates and the taping in Tampa on January 26th, a decision was finally made, and the Bulldogs would lose the Tag Titles that night... to the team of Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik. WHAT?!?! Yes, in the Fall of 1986, after a long program that saw Volkoff mostly working singles in a feud with Corporal Kirchner, the former Tag Team Champions were reheated, and with Fred Blassie's looming retirement, they were given a new manager, the Doctor of Style, Slick, a shady businessman who was throwing money around like water. Wait a moment, what do you mean this isn't how the chronological history of the belts goes. Though the decision was made to put the belts on Sheik and Volkoff, Dynamite Kid (allegedly) balked at the idea, refusing to put them over, and threatening that if they wanted the belts, they'd have to take it from him at home. The only team he was willing to show up to the arena for would be a team that the Bulldogs were familiar with and had countless battles with that would steal the show in all the towns they worked.
As Vince McMahon expanded nationally, it wasn;t just the territories of the United States that McMahon targeted. Expanding north of the border, McMahon first took over Toronto when he convinced the Tunney family into abandoning relationships with the NWA and exclusively working with the WWF, absorbing Maple Leaf Wrestling in the process. Elsewhere, Stu Hart's Stampede Wrestling, based in Calgary, was going through hardships with a six-month ban handed down for a riot that broke out during one of their heated angles. Seeing the writing on the wall, Stu accepted McMahon's offer, with the condition he also give contracts to three wrestlers: The aforementioned Davey Boy Smith and Dynamite Kid, and the 8th of his 12 children, Bret. There are conflicting reports that Stu's son-in-law, Jim Neidhart, was included in the deal, but based on the timeline, it doesn't line up properly, but it makes for a better story, right?
Bret, like Davey Boy and Dynamite, was brought in immediately, mostly working the Canadian shows and TV tapings in Poughkeepsie as a prelim babyface. There's a hilarious story from him where he was presented with the idea of being a cowboy, and declining the idea because where he comes from, if you act like a cowboy, you better be a cowboy, and to make a long story short (too late), he wasn't a cowboy. Though lacking any serious push or much charisma, he was put over huge by one of the lead-voices in the company, Gorilla Monsoon, with Monsoon noting time after time Bret had "excellence of execution" for how crisp and effective everything he did looked. Jim Neidhart on the other hand was a completely different style of worker. A professional football hopeful and record-setting shot put thrower, Neidhart was a tank who used his size to bulldoze opponents, rarely utilizing much wrestling technique. Brought into the company in early 1985, Neidhart was given a mid-card push as a singles heel with MR. FUJI of all people as his manager. The pairing didn't last long, and Neidhart was soon handed off to Jimmy Hart with little fanfare. With neither man gaining traction in a cluttered roster of territory superstars, they eventually came up with the idea of Bret (or was it spelled "Brett"?) turning heel and form a tag team with Neidhart. Though they are best known as "The Hart Foundation", the name started out as the stable name of Jimmy Hart's crew, not exclusively to Bret and Neidhart. Despite this new change in direction, the Hart Foundation were little more than mid-card fodder for the top teams, with their shining moment being the last two men disposed of by Andre the Giant at the WrestleMania 2 Battle Royal.
With Bret and Neidhart ultimately chosen to take the belts off the Bulldogs, now it was time to take a long-simmering storyline to the next level. For months, there were hints and concerns that the officiating of Danny Davis wasn't always on the up and up. He'd favor the heels, ignoring their blatant cheating, while reprimanding babyfaces for the simplest of excuses, sometimes completely fabricated ones. Heels were protected with lame-excuse Disqualifications, and every week Vince McMahon would blow his top trying to convince everyone how corrupt Davis was (Jesse Ventura would have none of it, naturally). Whether or not it was planned, Danny Davis (in his beige khaki glory) also was the third man in the ring when Randy Savage stole the Intercontinental Championship from Tito Santana at the Boston Garden in February of 1986. With the wheels in motion for the crooked referee, and the babyface Champions needing to drop the belts immediately, it was time for the perfect plan to come into play...
With the Hart Foundation and Danny Davis finally showing their hand, it didn't take long for the repercussions to be dealt swiftly from above. President Jack Tunney would make the unprecedented decision to suspend Danny Davis from his duties as a WWF referee for life... PLUS TEN YEARS. Way to take the p*ss out of something by tacking something on strictly for comedic effect. Unfortunately for Mr. Tunney, the Foundation would have the last laugh, with Jimmy Hart gleefully announcing that Danny Davis was training to be a professional wrestler. Of course, smart fans at the time might have known that Davis, while performing as a referee, would often moonlight as a wrestler, working under a mask as the mysterious Mr. X. Maybe it was false bravado announcing Davis' ventures into being a full-time wrestler, especially knowing that Davis was considerably smaller than even the smallest men on the roster, but it didn't take long before Davis' first match was announced: teaming with the Hart Foundation against three men who had their careers directly affected by Davis; The British Bulldogs and Tito Santana, and the match would take place in front of nearly 100,000 fans at the Pontiac Silverdome (we'll ignore Davis working a few house shows against Koko B. Ware, the only babyface who might have been shorter than Davis).
To the casual audience watching at home, Danny Davis' participation was the biggest mystery heading into the big event, but there was still the lingering questions and concern about the health of the Dynamite Kid. Following the Tampa tapings, he would stay out of the ring for another month before returning to action on March 8 at the Meadowlands in a match that went roughly 30-seconds and involved zero work from him. That trend would continue, with Davey Boy shouldering the workload while Dynamite would spend entire matches on the apron. Dynamite's first real action wouldn't be until WrestleMania III. While not a masterpiece, the match told the story it needed to tell: The Bulldogs and Santana were less concerned with winning the match than dishing out as much punishment they could to the former referee that screwed them out of their respective titles. After taking big move after big move, Davis would get the last laugh as he was handed Jimmy Hart's megaphone and knocked out Davey Boy Smith to steal the fall. Not only did Davis screw this team out of their titles, now he's embarrassed them at the biggest show in company history.
In the months following WrestleMania III, the Hart Foundation would routinely defeat the British Bulldogs on the house show loop, often in Cage Matches where the gimmick is both members of a team were required to exit the cage to secure victory. Once that series finally ran its course, the Foundation would jump from challenger to challenger with little storyline investments. First in line were the Killer Bees, a team consisting of Jim Brunzell and Brian Blair that floundered in the mid-card for the better part of two years at this point. While technically proficient, neither man oozed charisma. The only effort into making them stand out was a "masked confusion" gimmick where the Bees would don masks, often mid-match, to confuse their opponents. Yes, that sounds like an underhanded thing to do, and no, it didn't do much in catapulting them into the top of the division. To make matters worse, this short run against the Foundation came at a time when Blair was missing dates, so Brunzell would be paired with whatever random babyfaces the WWF could scrounge, including Koko B. Ware and Hillbilly Jim.
After the Bees came Jacques and Raymond Rougeau, another team of perfectly fine workers who never had the support in being pushed as more than two guys to fill out the card. Arguably their most memorable moment would be one that didn't happen for a television audience and would fly under the radar to the North American audience for years. On August 10th, 1987, at the Montreal Forum, the Rougeau Brothers defeated the Hart Foundation for the Tag Team Titles, with the use of Jimmy Hart's megaphone. Footage was featured on the local news, immortalizing the moment, but it turns out that the finish was meant to be one of those "oh wait" moments where the titles were returned on a technicality caught after the fall was counted. While those finishes were commonplace in the AWA or Jim Crockett Promotions, the WWF would usually resort to cheap DQ's and Count-Outs without misleading audiences. What makes this "Dusty Finish" more complex is that they didn't return to Montreal with a rematch! Instead, the Rougeaus spent the next few months in tag team purgatory before the idea was kicked around to turn them heel.
We've established a lack of storyline development for the Hart Foundation coming out of WrestleMania III, but as the summer heated up, the Foundation would be directly involved into two pieces of business that don't get much coverage. The first bit of business was doing a series of matches on syndication against Jim Powers and Paul Roma. Both men came along with the WWF in 1984 and 1985 as enhancement talent, and both were clean-cut, good lucking young men with physiques that outclassed most of the other prelim workers. Naturally cast as babyfaces, they would show up regularly at the syndication tapings, and over time were used in prelim roles on the house show loop, often paired up either to put over an established team like the Islanders or to have competitive matches with teams like the Shadows or Conquistadors. Meanwhile, in attempt to juice house show business, Mr. T was brought back for the first time since the infamous WrestleMania 2 to be a special enforcer, or in laymen's terms, be a bias babyface referee. One of his first assignments was a non-title match between the Foundation and Roma and Powers, taped on July 15th from Glens Falls, NY. After Bret and Anvil cheated their way to victory, T made the controversial decision to award the match to Roma and Powers. Two weeks later, the duo would upset Kamala and Sika, and shortly after, the duo was branded "The Young Stallions" after a passing comment from Vince McMahon during one of their matches on Superstars. The Stallions parlayed their newfound success and would unsuccessfully challenge the Hart Foundation for the Titles on the October 3 episode of Saturday Night's Main Event. Despite being part of the surviving group of their team at the upcoming Survivor Series, the Stallions were quickly positioned back where they started, as prelim guys who struggled against established talent, and would go 50/50 with the prelim heels. As for Mr. T, his appearances were limited to a few weeks' worth of dates before quietly disappearing from the WWF picture.
With the British Bulldogs disposed of and Dynamite's career on its last legs, the Rougeau Brothers and Killer Bees not seen as next-level talent to carry the belts, and only establishing Roma and Powers for the sake of running more tours (welcome to the era of not just C-tours, BUT D-TOURS AS WELL!), who else could there be that could possibly take the belts off the Hart Foundation? Well, there is one team on the babyface side of the depth chart that we haven't talked about. In fact, the story of them possibly winning the belts dates to before the Hart Foundation won the belts! Bret and Jim's reign was never designed to be a long one, but the team positioned to be their successors as Champions weren't long for the company, with jealousy and personal politics fracturing the team behind the scenes. We'll break here, and dig into the archives and enjoy some matches featuring the Hart Foundation defending the Tag Team Titles against some of the teams we've covered, starting with...
This is just a small sample why the mid-late 80's was considered the golden era for the WWF's tag team division. It didn't matter where you pulled matches from, or who the participants were, there was always a good chance of the tag team matches being the best match on the card. You could fall down a rabbit hole trying to watch all the title defenses from the Hart Foundation, not to mention all the other tag teams putting on high caliber performances. Take it as my personal recommendation to track down whatever you can and enjoy it. You won't be disappointed.
Next time on Part VI of the History of the Tag Team Championship: We've got two major title changes shaking up the tag team division. The Can-Am Connection relocates, and a Road Warriors knock-off becomes arguably the most dominant team in WWF history.
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